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Legal professionals call for Alberta parties to support increased justice funding

Legal professionals call for Alberta’s political parties to support increased justice funding
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta legal professionals are calling on all the province's political parties to clearly state their platforms when it comes to justice. Sarah Kraus reports.

The Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Bar Association is hoping all political parties will lay out clear plans to improve the justice system as part of their election platforms.

“An under-resourced justice system affects us all. It results in Albertans facing increased taxes and decreased community well-being and safety,” said president Frank Friesacher.

The group represents 5,200 judges, lawyers, law professors and students, as well as other justice system staff.

“We are calling on the next government to increase funding and invest resources in infrastructure, technological innovation, the judicial compliment and support staff to improve the effectiveness of the administration of justice,” Friesacher said.

READ MORE: ‘Not an empty threat:’ Alberta defence lawyers warn of strike in legal aid fight

The association says every dollar invested into the justice system brings back six dollars in savings — either through the justice system itself, or through other public services — because it would speed up the court process.

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“It would allow for the courts to address the delay issue that they have, try to deal with the caseload that is before them right now and try to move on and implement some innovative new projects in order to divert matters away from the courts that do not need to be in front of a judge.”

READ MORE: Triple-booking trials should help reduce court delays

Friesacher credits the NDP for improvements already made to the justice system.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley spoke about some of those accomplishments on Tuesday in Calgary.

“We have also invested in new prosecutors, we have invested in legal aid to ensure that people can work their way through the justice system more quickly. We’ve also created more judicial positions.”

READ MORE: 6 new provincial court judges appointed in Alberta

However there’s still more work to be done and all parties agree on that.

“One word: absolutely,” Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel said. “We’re fortunate in our candidates — we have Bob Phillip, who is a former judge; Ali Haymour, who is a judge; and Ryan MacDougall, who is a part of legal aid.”

Mandel plans to lean on the personal experience of those candidates to determine the best steps forward.

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“To have a system that has so many problems right now? It needs to be fixed, it needs to be invested in and we need to do a better job,” Mandel said.

Liberal Leader David Khan shared a similar sentiment.

“As a lawyer, I know that the justice system is broken… We’re finding sometimes that murderers are sometimes being released because their trial is taking too long. We need to invest more in the justice system and more in legal aid,” he said.

Khan plans to create drug and mental health courts to ease the burden on judges. It’s a move the CBA supports.

READ MORE: Alberta launches review of legal aid program struggling to keep up with demand

As for the UCP, leader Jason Kenney is also interested in the idea of drug courts, but not additional supports for legal aid.

“We don’t have additional funding for legal aid. We do have an additional $10 million to hire 50 new prosecutors, as well as additional funding for drug courts,” he said.

Friesacher hopes whichever party ends up forming government will carefully consider where it focuses its efforts.

“We need to look at it from a holistic approach — not just at the level of prosecutors or police — but throughout the entire system.

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“Where are the bottlenecks? Where can resources be put most effectively to deal with the delays?”